Balkan bor­ders are firmly set, says US of­fi­cial

Deputy As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary for Euro­pean and Eurasian Af­fairs Hoyt Brian Yee urges Athens, Skopje to set­tle name dis­pute for sake of sta­bil­ity

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY STAVROS TZIMAS

Amer­ica con­tin­ues to have a strong pres­ence and in­ter­est in the Balkans, and pol­icy in Wash­ing­ton has not changed in that re­gard, Deputy As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary for Euro­pean and Eurasian Af­fairs Hoyt Brian Yee tells Kathimerini in an in­ter­view.

The Amer­i­can of­fi­cial stresses that ex­ist­ing bor­ders in this sen­si­tive part of the world are firmly set and not the sub­ject of de­bate.

On the is­sue of re­cent ten­sion be­tween Greece and Al­ba­nia over com­ments from Ti­rana sug­gest­ing plans for a “Greater Al­ba­nia,” Yee clar­i­fied that Wash­ing­ton re­jects such na­tion­al­ist rhetoric wher­ever it comes from and calls on the lead­ers of the Western Balkans to avoid in­flam­ma­tory and di­vi­sive rhetoric, and fo­cus in­stead on re­forms.

Re­gard­ing the on­go­ing dis­pute over the name of the For­mer Yu­goslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (FYROM) be­tween Athens and Skopje, he says “that the door to NATO and the Euro­pean Union is open” if the re­quired re­forms are car­ried out, and also stressed the need for a mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able so­lu­tion “in the in­ter­est of Euro-At­lantic in­te­gra­tion.”

With our and Europe’s ac­tive en­gage­ment, we have seen some pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments in the Western Balkans re­cently. Mon­tene­gro has joined NATO, Mace­do­nia’s lead­ers have come to­gether to form a new gov­ern­ment, the Al­ba­nian op­po­si­tion agreed to end its boy­cott and par­tic­i­pate in elec­tions on June 25, and Ser­bia opened two new Euro­pean Union ac­ces­sion chap­ters this month. These steps for­ward demon­strate that hard work and per­sis­tence pay off, and that Balkan coun­tries can achieve their goals when there is po­lit­i­cal will. Of course the re­gion still faces sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges. These in­clude, in­ter­nally, frag­ile in­sti­tu­tions, short­com­ings in the rule of law, un­free me­dia, and en­demic cor­rup­tion. Ex­ter­nal chal- lenges in­clude com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism, man­ag­ing mi­grant flows, and re­sist­ing out­side at­tempts to de­rail de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion. In order to re­solve these chal­lenges, re­gional lead­ers will need to show po­lit­i­cal courage, co­op­er­ate with each other and make the de­ci­sions and steps nec­es­sary for greater sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity.

Amer­ica’s pres­ence and in­ter­est in the Western Balkans re­mains very strong. Our pol­icy has not changed. A sta­ble, pros­per­ous Western Balkans that is in­te­grated into Europe and serves as a strong part­ner on coun­tert­er­ror­ism and other shared in­ter­ests will help make Amer­ica safer, en­hance the US econ­omy and en­sure peace in the re­gion. To ac­com­plish this goal, the coun­tries of the Western Balkans need to com­mit them­selves to the deep re­forms needed to pro­vide their ci­ti­zens good gov­er­nance, se­cu­rity and more jobs.

The bor­ders of coun­tries in the Balkans are clearly de­fined, in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized and not a mat­ter of se­ri­ous dis­pute. Chang­ing bor­ders in the Balkans would not con­trib­ute to the se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity of the re­gion. On the con­trary, as we know from ex­pe­ri­ence, at­tempts to change bor­ders in the re­gion can be highly desta­bi­liz­ing. We urge politi­cians in the re­gion to re­frain from in­flam­ma­tory and di­vi­sive rhetoric and fo­cus in­stead on ad­dress­ing the fun­da­men­tal po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­forms nec­es­sary to ad­vance their fur­ther in­te­gra­tion into Euro-At­lantic in­sti­tu­tions.

As I said be­fore, we do not sup­port re­draw­ing the map in the Western Balkans and we re­ject ethno-na­tion­al­ist rhetoric from any source. I am not aware of any se­ri­ous ef­fort to change bor­ders in the re­gion. We hope and ex­pect that lead­ers in the re­gion will con­tinue to seek out op­por­tu­ni­ties to ad­dress the is­sues their ci­ti­zens care about – for ex­am­ple eco­nomic growth. Lead­ers should also co­op­er­ate to re­duce any eth­nic or po­lit­i­cal ten­sions, and to re­solve dis­putes in a man­ner that re­spects in­ter­na­tional law and norms.

NATO and the EU have reg­u­larly reaf­firmed that the door to mem­ber­ship is open to Mace­do­nia. And NATO up­holds its com­mit­ments. How­ever, to be­come a mem­ber, Mace­do­nia must con­vince NATO gov­ern­ments and par­lia­ments it is meet­ing the stan­dards set by these or­ga­ni­za­tions. This means im­ple­ment­ing needed demo­cratic re­forms, par­tic­u­larly re­lated to the rule of law, and full im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Przino Agree­ment. We hope that the lead­ers of Mace­do­nia and Greece will find a mu­tu­ally agree­able so­lu­tion to the name dis­pute in the in­ter­est of Euro-At­lantic in­te­gra­tion, eco­nomic pros­per­ity, peace, and se­cu­rity in the re­gion.

Our pol­icy has not changed. As we have said, Turkey and Greece have longestab­lished diplo­matic chan­nels for ad­dress­ing Aegean is­sues. As a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple, the United States sup­ports the sovereignty of the coun­tries in the re­gion, in­clud­ing Greece and Turkey.

‘ Turkey and Greece have long-es­tab­lished diplo­matic chan­nels for ad­dress­ing Aegean is­sues,’ says Hoyt Brian Yee. ‘As a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple, the United States sup­ports the sovereignty of the coun­tries in the re­gion, in­clud­ing Greece and Turkey.’

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